Samsung Galaxy Tab S (8.4-inch) review: A slick Android tablet, packed with power

SideSync lets you connect your Galaxy phone, using an app, and mirror the phone's screen on the tablet, allowing you to swipe around the interface as though you're on your phone. It's a fairly interesting feature, although I'm not entirely sure why you'd need it; however, I found the connection to be pretty unstable and it regularly disconnected in my testing time.

Add to that a whole host of preloaded third-party software like Evernote, Bloomberg Businessweek, The New York Times, Flipboard, and Hancom Office Viewer and that sleek slate suddenly seems very cluttered. It's not so much the volume that's the problem -- it's the duplication. Google already has its own browser, app store, and magazine service, so Samsung adding its own versions of these is likely to be extremely confusing, particularly to new users -- the question of "which do I use?" is likely to come up on numerous occasions.

Some of the third-party apps can be removed, so you can declutter to a certain extent, but Samsung's app store and services like SideSync and WatchOn can't be uninstalled. If you're buying the slate for a technophobic relative, I recommend at least hiding the superfluous apps so they don't appear in the app tray. You really won't miss them.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The app clutter isn't the only thing that's likely to confuse new users. Like most of the recent Samsung Galaxy range of tablets and phones, the settings menu is so vast and so rammed full of tweakable settings for every aspect of the device that it can be incredibly difficult to actually find your way around the various tabs. Even obvious things like 'About Device' are unhelpfully stored under 'More' rather than 'Device' which seems just a little daft.

Battery life and processor performance

The tablet is powered by an Exynos 5 octa-core processor. That's eight cores in total, but it's really made up of a 1.3GHz quad-core processor that's used for basic tasks and background processing, and a faster 1.9GHz quad-core chip that kicks in for more demanding tasks like gaming. It doesn't use all eight cores at once for monster power. Instead, it's designed to help make the slate a bit more efficient with battery power by not using all its power at once.

That's the theory, anyway, and in practice, I'd say it's probably working. In my own use, I found the tablet was able to slumber in standby overnight without dropping much power and could idle for several days and still have a bit of charge left. I've found my iPad Mini to still have charge after a week of sitting in standby, which I don't think the Tab S is able to achieve, but it's not far off.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

In use, it's a different matter. The biggest drain is of course that high-definition, super-bright screen. If you play a lot of games with the brightness on max, you can just watch the power drain away in a morning. After 2 hours of streaming video on max brightness, the power level had dropped from full to 79 percent, which isn't too bad. I'll be putting it through more battery drain tests in the coming days and will update this review with my findings.

If you're reasonably careful about how you use the tablet, you won't struggle to get at least a day of use. If you're a casual tablet user -- sofa-surfing in the evening and a spot of RSS feed browsing over breakfast, then you should expect to get at least a couple of days. If you want to get the most from the battery, then keeping the screen brightness down will be the biggest help. Turning off nonessential services like GPS and Wi-Fi will help as well and try and avoid anything too taxing like gaming or video streaming until you're in dashing distance of a plug.

With such a meaty supply of power purring away under the hood, it should come as no surprise that the Tab S is a very capable piece of kit. Navigation is swift, apps open without delay, and graphically intense games like Asphalt 8 played without any frame rate drop or slowdown. Flicking between open apps using the multitasking carousel was easy too, and it coped fine with having two apps (Google Maps and the Chrome browser) open at once using the dual app feature.

Camera

On the back of the slate is an 8-megapixel camera. Camera performance is unlikely to be the main reason you opt for one tablet over another -- it's not likely to become your dedicated camera for out-and-about shooting -- but it's good to know you have a good snapper on hand for when your pet does something totally adorable.

Luckily then, the camera seems perfectly capable of that sort of quick snap shooting. On my first shot of various squishy objects, I was pleased with the rich colours and there's a decent amount of detail too.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

In lower light, things weren't quite as good. There's quite a lot of image noise in the shadowy areas of this scene and the white balance has resulted in a warmer, less natural hue.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The camera is perfectly adequate for most things, though, so long as you take your shots in good light, and it's better than the cameras you'll find on a lot of low-end smartphones. It's not going to replace your dSLR, but it'll do fine for getting snaps for Facebook -- and that's all you really need from a tablet, isn't it?

Conclusion

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 has plenty going for it -- it's got an attractive, portable body, tonnes of power, and a gorgeous screen that makes glossy TV shows and movies look powerfully vivid. It's a great alternative to the iPad Mini, particularly if you're already an Android user and have bought apps that you can redownload onto the tablet.

It's not perfect, though. Its interface comes precluttered with additional Samsung software and a host of third-party apps which, together with the vast settings menu makes the tablet somewhat complicated to get to grips with -- particularly if you're not used to Android. If you're new to the tablet world and aren't yet committed to an ecosystem, the more simplistic iPad Mini might be a better choice.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11n
    Wi-Fi 802.11ac
  • Type Android 4.4 (KitKat)
  • RAM 3 GB
  • Weight 10.37 oz
  • Operating System Android 4.4 (KitKat)
  • Storage 16 GB
  • Processor Samsung Exynos 5 Octa
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